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Pumpkin Seed Germination: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Germinate Pumpkin Seed

When talking about Halloween, Jack-o’-Lanterns are among its most iconic symbols. They either come from pumpkin patches or your local grocery, but growing your pumpkin is easy and can be enjoyable. 

Follow our quick guide on germinating pumpkin seeds and you’ll have a Jack-o’-Lantern ready just in time for Halloween!

How long do pumpkin seeds take to grow into a plant?

How long do pumpkin seeds take to grow into a plant
Image: Old World Garden Farms

A pumpkin seed takes around one week to germinate, with three days being the minimum and ten days being the maximum. After germinating, the seedlings will mature in 90 to 120 days.

Then, you can harvest the mature pumpkins by cutting the stem with a sharp knife. For those in cooler areas, you can start pumpkin seeds indoors 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost so the plants will get a head start before the fall frosts.

What are the factors that affect seed germination?

What are the factors that affect seed germination
Image: Rustic Wise

Pumpkin seed germination and its success depend on soil temperature, humidity, variety and air circulation.

The speed also depends on these factors— so let’s check them out!

1. Soil Temperature

Soil Temperature
Image: Mink Hollow

Here’s a table of the required soil temperature for pumpkin seed germination.

Soil TemperatureTemperature in FahrenheitTemperature in Celsius
Ideal85 to 9529 to 35

The minimum required soil temperature for the seed to germinate is 15.6°C or 60°F. Any colder and the plant will grow lower than expected, that is, if the pumpkin seed germinates at all. 

Nature protects the seed from sprouting during a time or season when they cannot live. Meanwhile, the maximum soil temperature for germination is 40.6°C or 105°F. 

Any warmer than that, and chances for successful germination will be lower. This, combined with high humidity and warmer temperatures, can lead to molding, further threatening plant growth.

Given these, the most appropriate temperature for pumpkin seed germination is between 29.4°C or 89°F and 35°C or 95°F. If you follow this, you can expect your pumpkin to grow healthy and have the best results.

You can use a probe-type thermometer to monitor your soil’s cold or hotness. If the temperature reads too low, you can wait for the sun to warm the soil. 

You can speed up the process by clearing up any debris, including leaves or grass clippings, from the soil’s surface. You can also pick a location with plenty of sunlight for faster soil warming.

2. Humidity

Image: Home Improvement

Humidity levels that surround the area for the seed are another critical factor to monitor to ensure proper and healthy growth for your pumpkin. Ensure the soil is moist but not soggy to give your pumpkin seed the best chance of surviving. 

A dry soil will cause the growth of the seed to fail and, even worse, die. Meanwhile, soggy soil will lead to pathogens and mold harming your pumpkin.

One way to keep the air around your pumpkin seeds humid is to use a cloche, a transparent plastic or glass cover that you can place over your seeds to trap moisture and heat. 

We highly recommend this for those growing pumpkins with a short growing season.

3. Air Circulation

Air Circulation
Image: Pinterest

Like any other living thing, seeds require air, like seedlings and plants. If the soil is soggy and there is little to no air circulation, the death of the seeds is inevitable before they even experience sprouting.

To avoid this, keep your soil loose to allow more space for air and water, leading to healthy seed germination. You can also water your seeds regularly and use a cloche to maintain the required humidity.

4. Pumpkin Variety

Pumpkin Variety
Image: Rethink: rural

Pumpkins come in different shapes and sizes and are also used for various purposes. This versatile gourd comes from the Cucurbitaceae family, called “Cucurbits.” 

In the pumpkin patch, two families of pumpkins thrive – the Pepos, known for sweet pies and Jack-o’-Lanterns, and the Maximas, recognized for their decorative beauty and big size. 

Here are some pumpkin varieties to choose from, according to the pumpkin’s purpose:

Pumpkin VarietyFeature
Atlantic Giant, Big Max, Big Moon, and PrizewinnerLarge pumpkins
Baby Bear, Baby Boo, Bumpkin, and Jack-Be-LittleSmall pumpkins
Autumn Gold, Baby Pam, New England Pie Pumpkin, Cinderella, and Fairy TaleSweet pumpkins
Champion, Connecticut Field, Howden and Jack O’Lantern.Halloween pumpkins
Casper, Lumina, Snowball, Polar Bear, Valenciano and Sunlight.Colorful pumpkins

When to Start Pumpkin Seed Germination

When to Start Pumpkin Seed Germination
Image: At Once

Starting pumpkin seeds might be easy, but timing could be tricky. If you begin too early, your plant may be mush before Halloween. 

It’s too late, and your pumpkin may not be ready come Thanksgiving. Pumpkins are a warm-season crop that loves the sun and cannot handle the cold season well. 

Waiting until the soil has warmed before planting its seed is essential. Planting pumpkin seeds is best when the outside soil reaches at least 21°C or 70°F, or warmer, if possible.

If it is too cold in your area to plant seeds outdoors, consider starting indoors or buying pumpkin plants from nurseries, then directly planting them into the ground.

When starting pumpkin seed germination indoors, begin 2 to 4 weeks before transferring them outdoors. 

For example, if your last expected frost date is May 15, you can start seeds indoors around  April 24 to May 8 and plant your seedlings outside between May 29 and June 12. 

How to Germinate Pumpkin Seeds

How to Germinate Pumpkin Seeds
Image: Gardening Tips

First, here are the required growing conditions for pumpkin seed germination:

Growing ConditionRequirement
Sowing depth1 inch (2.5cm)
Space between plants after thinning3 to 4 feet
Days to sprout7 to 10
Days to harvest90 to 115
Storage period8 to 24 weeks
Seeds per 100-row feet1 ounce
Yield per 100-row feet200 pounds

Now that you’re all caught up with the basics, here are three ways to germinate pumpkin seeds – direct seeding, rows, hills, or paper towels.

Read on to learn how to apply each way in your garden. 

1. Direct Seeding

Direct Seeding
Image: Minneopa
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration7 to 10 days
Things You NeedPumpkin seeds
Nail file or Sandpaper
Warm water
Starter mix
Six-inch peat pots
Loam soil

How To Do
1. File the edges of the seed except for the pointed end lightly with a nail file or a piece of sandpaper. 
2. Soak the seeds in warm water for at least two hours. 
3. Fill six-inch peat pots with soil.
4. Use a seed starter mix if you are new to growing pumpkins. 
5. Add the compost in the bottom inch or two of the pot, and ensure it is clean of insects and debris.
6. Plant the seed in the pot, 1 to 2 inches deep.
7. Place the seed on its side.
8. Water thoroughly and keep the soil moist.
9. In 4 to 6 days, the seedlings will emerge from the soil, but the total time to germinate may vary as it usually takes 7 to 10 days. If they haven’t sprouted after ten days, begin a second planting.

2. Rows

Image: Pinterest
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration7 to 10 days
Things You NeedPlowing tool
Pumpkin seeds
Loam soil

How To Do
1. Create an elevated row for your pumpkins.
2. Make the rows into shallow trenches on each side to retain water.
3. Plant each seed 3/4 inches deep and roughly 24 to 36 inches apart. 
4. Cover with dirt, and provide space for each row 5 to 6 feet apart.

3. Hills

Image: Disney Photo Blog
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration7 to 10 days
Things You NeedPlowing tool
Pumpkin seeds
Loam soil

How To Do
1. Make each hill roughly the size of a pitcher mound with a shallow trench around it to retain water.
2. Plant 4 or 5 seeds on each hill. 
3. Space each seed 6 to 8 inches apart.
4. Cover with dirt, and space each hill apart by 10 feet.

4. Pots

Image: Balcony Garden Web
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration5 to 10 days
Things You NeedSmall pots, flats, or upcycled containers (at least 2 inches deep and wide)
Potting mix
Pumpkin seeds
Loam soil

How To Do
1. Prepare several small pots.
2. Apply potting mix.
3. Plant 3 or 4 seeds per pot. Pumpkin seeds should germinate within 5-10 days.
4. Once the seedling emerges, carefully thin out to 1-2 plants per pot, ensuring no damage to the roots.
5. Once 2 to 3 true leaves appear within 2 to 4 weeks, they’re ready for hardening and transplanting in the garden.

5. Paper Towel

Paper Towel
Image: The Spruce
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration4 to 7 days
Things You NeedZiploc bags
Paper towels 
Pumpkin seeds
Spray bottle with water

How To Do
1. Place seeds onto the bottom half on a single paper towel. Fold the paper towel in half to cover the seeds.
2. Mist the paper towel with the spray bottle to ensure the seeds are moist.
3. Gently squeeze out excess water by pressing the paper towel between your hands.
4. Lay the moistened paper towel on a flat surface and roll the paper towel loosely like a tube.
5. Place the wrapped seeds into a clean plastic bag.
6. Leave the bag slightly open for sufficient airflow. 
7. Place the seeds in a warm place at room temperature, away from direct sunlight, like on top of the fridge.
8. Wait several days before checking if the seeds have germinated. If not all seeds have germinated, you can gently re-roll and check back after several days.
9. Place the sprouted pumpkin seeds in a pot with soil.

How do I make pumpkin seeds germinate faster?

How do I make pumpkin seeds germinate faster
Image: Pinterest

Pumpkin seeds germinate faster when protected from heat and cold, planted in moist soil at the proper depth and spacing and with enough air circulation. They also sprout faster when they are scarified and under grow lights.

Let’s get to know how these planting hacks help germinate pumpkin seeds faster.

1. Protect the seeds from extreme heat and cold.

Protect the seeds from extreme heat and cold
Image: Shonnards

First, protect your seeds from extreme heat and cold. By now, you know that temperature is one of the most important factors in seed germination.

If it is too cold to plant seeds outside, start indoors. This gives you a head start on growing and minimizes the danger of late spring frosts killing your seedlings, especially for those in an area with a short growing season.

2. Keep the soil moist.

Keep the soil moist.
Image: Flourishing

Always make sure that the soil is moist but not wet, and additionally, keep the air humid.  Seeds will not germinate if there is insufficient moisture in the soil and air.  

Consider a cloche for this purpose because it can trap heat and moisture and maintain the ideal environment for pumpkin seed germination.

3. Make sure the soil has enough air circulation.

Make sure the soil has enough air circulation.
Image: Dude Grows

Proper air circulation will help prevent waterlogging and suffocating of the roots of pumpkin plants. 

Make sure that the soil has enough air circulation which means that you should avoid compacted soil both before and after planting. It also means that you should avoid over-watering your soil.

4. Start seeds under grow lights.

Start seeds under grow lights.
Image: My Naturally Sweetened Life

If you start pumpkin seeds indoors, give the seedlings bright overhead lights after germination. Grow lights help regulate the temperature of the soil and help reduce the risk of damping off disease, which kills seedlings before they emerge in the soil.

Make sure to place the grow lights about 2 to 3 inches above your pumpkin seedlings and that they provide them 12 to 16 hours of light per day.

5. Plant the seeds at the proper depth and spacing.

Plant the seeds at the proper depth and spacing.
Image: Pinterest

 Pumpkin seeds should be planted at a depth of 1 inch.  If planting in rows, put one seed per 6 to 12 inches, while in hills, the seeds should be planted in groups of 4 to 6 per hill, with hills 4 to 8 feet apart.

When the seedlings emerge, we recommend that you thin down to 2 or 3 plants per hill to allow each seedling its own space in the soil to grow roots.

6. Scarify the seeds.

Scarify the seeds.
Image: Morning Chores

Finally, you can scarify or scratch the surface of your seeds to encourage germination and also increase the germination rate.

You can try carefully filling the outer thick layer of each seed with sandpaper or a nail file. Just be sure not to file too much (or risk damaging the seed), especially the tip of the seed.

Many pumpkin seed varieties, especially larger ones, have a thick, hard outer casing. You can soak the pumpkin seeds in warm water overnight before planting to soften the outer layer and speed up germination.

Should pumpkin seeds be soaked before planting?

Should pumpkin seeds be soaked before planting
Image: Epic Gardening

If you want to speed up germination, you should soak pumpkin seeds in warm water for at least 30 minutes before planting.

Check out these easy steps on how to soak pumpkin seeds.

DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration30 to 45 minutes
Things You NeedPumpkin seeds
Warm water

How To Do
1. Rinse the pumpkin seeds in a colander to remove any dirt or debris.
2. Place the pumpkin seeds in a bowl.
3. Add enough water to cover the pumpkin seeds by at least 2 inches.
4. If desired, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the water. Salt can help to soften the shells of the pumpkin seeds and make them easier to digest.
5. Stir the pumpkin seeds and water together.
6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid.
7. Let the pumpkin seeds soak overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
8. Drain the pumpkin seeds in a colander.
9. Rinse the pumpkin seeds again in fresh water.

Why are my pumpkin seeds not germinating?

Why are my pumpkin seeds not germinating
Image: Morning Chores

Pumpkin seeds fail to germinate because of the use of old seeds or improper soil conditions. 

Read on to know why pumpkins don’t germinate because of these two factors.

1. Old seeds

Old seeds
Image: Flavor Finds

One common reason for a lack of germination is that the seeds you are using are too old.  In that case, the germination rate may be low, or even zero.

Your seed package should tell you about dates and how long the seeds will last.

Pumpkin seeds tend to last about 4 years, and germination rates will naturally decrease with each passing year. 

Most pumpkin seeds are viable for up to six years if stored correctly. If you want to test out the viability of old seeds, use the paper towel test. 

Simply place 10 seeds onto a paper towel and moisten with water. Roll the seeds up in a tube and place in a plastic bag and place the unsealed bag in a warm place away from direct sunlight for several days.

If after several days, only 2 seeds have germinated, this indicates an approximate 20 percent germination rate. It may be time to toss those old seeds! 

2. Improper soil condition

Improper soil condition
Image: Gizmodo

Another reason your pumpkin seeds are not germinating has to do with soil conditions. If the soil is too cold, then your pumpkin seeds might not sprout right away whether you are growing indoors or outdoors.  

They may sprout when conditions improve and the soil warms up. We suggest waiting until soil temperatures are 70 degrees Fahrenheit before sowing seeds outdoors.

Alternatively, you can start germinating the seeds indoors by using a heat lamp or heat mat to keep the soil warm enough. Keep the soil moist, and consider using a humidity dome to help maintain the proper moisture levels in the soil and air.

How to Take Care of Pumpkin Seedlings

How to Take Care of Pumpkin Seedlings
Image: Famlii

Take care of pumpkin seedlings by providing their proper soil, water, sunlight and fertilizer needs. These seedlings also need to be protected from pests and diseases to thrive.

Keep reading to know how to take care of pumpkin seedlings.

1. Use well-draining soil and slightly acidic soil

Use well-draining soil and slightly acidic soil
Image: Sunset

Pumpkins need well-draining soil and prefer slightly acidic soil. The ideal soil pH for pumpkins is between 5.8 to 6.8.

Pumpkins do well in soil amended with plenty of nutrients. Before planting pumpkin seeds or seedlings, add a layer of mature manure or fully decomposed compost to the top several inches of soil.

2. Ensure sunlight exposure of at least 6 hours a day

Ensure sunlight exposure of at least 6 hours a day
Image:Practical Planter

When selecting an outdoor spot, find one where the pumpkins receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Placing it by a window with a southern exposure is the first step. 

You can also use an artificial grow light, or use fluorescent lighting to supplement the available sunlight. Place the pumpkins 6 to 8 inches below the light on cloudy days, and at night so the seedling will benefit from as much light as possible.

3. Water every two days

Water every two days
Image: This is my garden

Water your pumpkin seedling but in just the right amount. Provide water to the pumpkin every couple of days and don’t soak the soil each day. 

Overly wet soil is one of the basic ingredients for damping off disease. Let the soil dry out a little on the top first, then water thoroughly.

Keep pumpkins well-watered and ensure the soil is thoroughly wet after watering. They need at least 1 inch of water each week, sometimes more when flowering.

Avoid wetting the leaves when watering since they’re prone to mildew issues. Use a soaker or drip hose to water the base of the plant.

4. Add a bit of liquid fertilizer to the water

Add a bit of liquid fertilizer to the water
Image: Parenting

Although the seed starting mix should have plenty of nutrients, after several days, you should add a little liquid fertilizer to the water. 

Depending on your soil condition and whether or not you added compost or manure to the soil prior to planting, your pumpkins would benefit from fertilizer. 

You can also side-dress pumpkins with an organic balanced fertilizer once vines emerge every two weeks.

5. Protect against pests and diseases

Protect against pests and diseases
Image: Growing Magazine

Pumpkins are susceptible to a number of diseases that impact crop yield and overall health such as viruses causing downy mildew and powdery mildew, bacterial wilt, and scab.

Watch out for nasty critters too – the quash bugs that feast on leaves, quash vine borers that dig tunnels in vines, and striped cucumber beetles that damage the fruit, flowers, and stems!

Image: Garden of Eden

There’s also the damping off diseases which is a white mold that forms on the top of the soil. It flourishes in cold, wet, damp weather, along with little sunshine, and quickly spreads across the soil and wilts the seedling. 

If you do experience problems, don’t give up hope. The key is consistency and proper gardening practices. 

For instance, always place the plant in direct sunlight and stop watering until the surface is very dry. Remove all the molds evident on top of the soil; stir the top of the soil as much as possible and gently blow air on your plant trays with a small fan.

How big should pumpkin seedlings be before transplanting outdoors?

How big should pumpkin seedlings be before transplanting outdoors
Image: Homestead

Pumpkin seedlings should be between 4 and 6 inches tall before transplanting outdoors. By this time, they have developed their 4 to 6 true leaves.

Here are steps on how to transplant pumpkin seedlings outdoors.

DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration15 to 30 minutes
Things You NeedPumpkin seedlings
A shovel or trowel
Compost or manure

How To Do
1. Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil.
2. Amend the soil with compost or manure before planting.
3. Space the plants 4-6 feet apart.
4. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the seedling’s root system.
5. Place the seedling in the hole and backfill with soil.
6. Gently tamp down the soil around the seedling.
7. Water the seedling thoroughly.
8. Mulch around the seedling to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.

FAQs on Pumpkin Seed Germination

Do pumpkin seeds need to be dried before planting?

Pumpkin seeds need to be dried before planting to prevent the seeds from rotting.

How long does it take to soak pumpkin seeds for germination?

Soak pumpkin seeds for 6 to 12 hours before planting to soften the seed coat and promote germination.

Do pumpkin seeds need water?

Pumpkin seeds need water to germinate. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

Do pumpkin seeds need a lot of sun?

Pumpkin seeds need a lot of sun to grow. Plant them in a sunny location with well-drained soil.

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